Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Perfect Pairing

In food and wine is there a perfect pairing or is it just something we imagine? I believe the quest for finding the perfect pairing is worth the journey. It brings you to try new and different food and wine in ways you may never have suspected.

I have a thirst for learning all I can about food and wine and enjoy trying surprising combinations. I think I may have found a book that can help achieve that perfect pairing that I as well as many others seek. Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art of Food, Wine, and Flavor by Francois Chartier brings me all that much closer.  I discovered this book one day reading Food and Wine and finding an article by Ray Isle, "Getting Pairing Down to a Science". This article brought some new ideas to me that I had a craving to learn more. So off to I went and ordered Francois Chartier's book and had to patiently wait for it to be delivered.

When I opened that highly expected box from Amazon I couldn't wait get reading. Keep in mind this book is not a recipe book, though there are recipes and it's not a simple wine pairing book. It goes into a scientific detail that can make your head spin as you try to wrap your brain around different flavor molecules that are in varieties of food and wine. But it's something not to give up on. If you are serious about food this book is something for you. It's not just for food and wine pairing it works for finding food and food combinations. Taste Buds and Molecules has something for everyone that enjoys food.

Several short chapters into the book I find the first wine Sauvignon Blanc. The chapter is titled Mint and Sauvignon Blanc, An Open Door Into the World of Anise-Flavored Foods and Wines. The title intrigued me and so I read on and discovered that foods with volatile compounds and aromas of anise would pair nicely with Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, and Albarino's. Did you know mint, dill, yellow beets, and celery all have an anise flavor? Those are just a few with that flavor molecule the list goes on.

While reading this chapter I was inspired to test the theory. Francois Chartier mentions salmon confit with parsley, fennel, mint, and root vegetables so I was game to try. I made parsley oil to slow cook the salmon in, then used celery root puree for the starch, and finally I thinly sliced a fennel bulb and fried the slices until they were crispy. When everything was read to plate I placed the celery root puree down, laid the salmon over the puree, garnished the salmon with  crispy fennel and fennel frond, and to finish I drizzled the plate with some of the parsley oil.  We enjoyed a 2010 Hogue Sauvignon Blanc with this meal and oh my goodness did it work. You could taste the anise flavor in every thing we ate and drank. It wasn't overwhelming, everything had a different level of anise flavor. Some items were stronger than others, but it all worked in harmony. You still got some of the citrus flavors and acid from the wine and that worked well with the fattiness of the salmon and the cream used in the celery root puree.

That wasn't the end of testing out other food and wine pairings with the anise compound. Next was Verdejo and mussels with chorizo. We discovered the 2011 Rey Santo Verdejo at a local wine bar and when we tasted it we knew we wanted mussels to go with it. Little did I know then I was going to put the two to a more scientific taste test.

The test came last night when I cooked up mussels and chorizo in a wine broth along with onions, tomatoes and at the end a handful of fresh parsley. To soak up all that wonderful broth I toasted a baguette, rubbed a clove of raw garlic on each piece, and finished it off with fresh thyme & pepper. Did this pairing work? It did on several levels. The flavor of the parsley hit on those anise notes in the Verdejo. The broth, chorizo and mussels worked well with the acid in the wine, due in part to the fat from the chorizo.

Were either of these the perfect pairing I referred to earlier?  To some yes, to some no. For me I have to say no, only because if this is perfection I have no reason to continue my search. There are so many variables to each dish, not all wines taste the same with the same food. Each wine has its own characteristics that may stand out or be hidden by the dish you are eating. With that knowledge the search continues.

Read the same article from Food & Wine that inspired me

Getting Pairing Down to a Science by Ray Isle

Learn more about Francois Chartier by visiting his web site

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